Toddler Thursday: 6 Steps to Encourage Toddler Literacy

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The seeds of a reading habit are coaxed to life during the toddler years.

The seeds for my daughters’ early literacy were planted during infancy and nurtured during the toddler years. By pre-school (age 4), my girls could read simple short books they’d never seen before, such as Amelia Bedelia and Hop on Pop. My daughters were independently reading chapter books by the time they were 5.

I can’t guarantee that your children will be early readers, but these are my tips for getting your toddlers on the path to reading.

  1. Keep books within reach. I highly recommend that you give your children free access to age-appropriate books. I know that it’s tempting to keep things neat by putting toys and books out of reach of your toddler. However, having independent access to his or her books will encourage your toddler to handle them, explore them, and become familiar with them. It can be as simple as reserving the bottom shelf of your bookshelves for children’s books.
    Keep kids' books within their reach to encourage a love of reading.
  2. Let toddlers leaf through magazines and catalogues. They can get used to the texture of paper and how it should be handled. You probably won’t care if they tear some of the pages. Magazines and catalogues are filled with bright, engaging pictures. You may be surprised by the stories your toddler comes up with to describe what’s going on!
    Let toddlers look through catalogs and magazines.
  3. Invest in letter recognition toys. We loved our LeapFrog Fridge Phonics. Just looking at this photo of M with her magnets brought the song back to me. ♫ “B says /b/. B says /b/. Every letter makes a sound. B says /b/.” ♬ The repetitive nature of this noisy toy drove the girls’ Dad bonkers, but my kids learned their letters! It doesn’t look like Leapfrog makes the fridge model any more, but I suspect that the Letter Factory Phonics does the trick.
    Leapfrog Phonics toys help toddlers learn their letters.
  4. Make a game of letter recognition. We had a rather long commute to and from daycare. We’d pick a different letter for each ride and look for it everywhere: on billboards, license plates and store signs. I also kept a pack of dollar store alphabet flashcards in the car and would have a grand time quizzing the girls on the letter I was holding up. Sometimes, I’d just ask them to name the letter. Other times, we’d come up with every word we could think of that started with that letter. J and M were able to participate in this game and enjoy it thoroughly by the time they were 2.Alphabet flashcards are a great basis for many toddler-friendly games.
  5. Get your child his or her own library card. Gone are the old days of librarians shushing children. At every public library we’ve visited (and that’s a lot), children’s librarians have been warm and welcoming and very patient with my kids’ age-appropriately childish behaviour. They value toddler literacy as much as you do! Many libraries will associate your children’s library account with yours so that you can track all your materials. The sense of ownership of having one’s own library card can’t be beat, and getting to use it encourages your child to explore the stacks and read checked out books. It’s perfectly all right to confine your toddler’s options to board books at first.This library offers child-specific library accounts and cards. Great way to encourage a healthy library habit!
  6. Read to them, with them and in front of them every day. You feed your kid food every day to nourish his or her body. Reading every day nourishes his or her mind. Seeing you read helps normalize reading as an enjoyable activity. We read books throughout the day whenever we could. Even on days into which I couldn’t quite fit in devoted reading time between getting home from work and feeding and bathing the kids, we read Goodnight Moon as part of our bedtime routine. After about a year, I didn’t even need to read it to them any more. My daughters recited it from memory, delighted to be able to do such a grownup thing as “read”.Reading with your kids is a great way to spend time together.

What recommendations do you have for encouraging a love of the written word in toddlers?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the single mother of 8-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, but now also blogs at and Multicultural Mothering.

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Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 10-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. They live in the Austin, TX suburbs, where Sadia works full time in information technology. She contributes to a number of parenting websites and magazines and also runs The Mommy Blogging Guide, where she answers mommy bloggers' technical questions.

2 thoughts on “Toddler Thursday: 6 Steps to Encourage Toddler Literacy”

  1. These are great ideas! My soon-to-be toddlers (only 4 wks!) are finally allowing me to read to them rather than grabbing at the books so they can chew the pages. I’ve always been a big reader, so I definitely want to encourage this in my children. Your suggestions have inspired me to add letter flash cards to the bday list!

  2. My kids LOVE books. Everything Sadia said rings very true. A few more ideas that have really excited my little guys:
    1. A pocket book shelf makes books easy to see and access. They can even put them away independently.
    2. I don’t put out all their books at a time, but rotate maybe 15-20, including library books. This keeps their interest fresh.
    3. Act out the stories in the books with their toys. We started this with “Little Blue Truck,” and they love it!
    4. Picture walks through books – forget reading a familiar story; just talk about the pictures and ask the kids to point out items they know, find certain colors, or count objects.
    5. We prepare for and follow up big events with stories, like flying on an airplane to Grandma’s, or visiting a dinosaur exhibit at the museum. They love to process the experience and language through repetition.

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